Touting A New Chinese Export: A Housing Label — “Sandwich Class”

modern high-rises back a single person posing for a photo
Macau photo by sa_be is licensed under CC BY-NC 2.0
Until 1978, when China commercialized housing, a mix of public and private housing was found only in the Special Adminstrative Districts of Macau and Hong Kong.

“Affordable,” “Missing Middle,” “Workforce”. . . are you up to date on your housing labels? Knowing how housing is described can help navigate the fog of manufactured confusion that the free enterprise housing industry likes to create.

Why does the industry bother? Simple. It pays off in cash. Or cheap land, or tax advantages, to name just a few potential benefits.

Pretty much everyone is familiar with the much-used housing industry label “luxury” found in such ads as “luxury townhouses from the low $400’s.” In these cases, “luxury” translates to a narrow, vertical wallboard heaven with no yard and one more garage than necessary. The payoff for the housing industry in this case comes from any of the struggling middle class people who have just enough money and a childish belief in Santa Claus.

Within the “affordable” class of labels previously mentioned, the payoff comes from a suitably boondoggled level of government convinced by the labelling to believe that an entire (even newly discovered) segment of the population is one small step away from homelessness unless some kind of subsidy is provided.

It must be noted, before further developing this theme of housing labels, that the greatest threat of homelessness is suffered by those with very low or no incomes. In many nations, longstanding labels still apply to this class. Such people are pre-qualified for “social” or “public” or “council” housing labels, i.e. government-subsidized housing which ties rent to income, regardless of whether enough, or even any, such housing actually exists.

Do the labels describe the person, or the housing? To some degree, the answer is “both.” Two or three years ago, “the missing middle” was a popular competitor in its class. But alas, it has more or less gone missing itself, replaced by the term “workforce” housing that somehow relates to a subset of a country’s working population, the lower middle class.

Recently, however, “workforce” has been replaced with the label “affordable,” successfully hijacked from a purpose once used to describe those with very low or no incomes.

In the probably vain hope that “affordable” can be repurposed to mean “affordable for all,” and not just a narrow segment of the middle class, is touting a new Chinese import — “sandwich class.”

We feel that “sandwich class” has more evocative flavour than any of the others to describe lower middle class housing: the lower middle class sandwiched into a paste between public and market housing, threatening at any moment to ooze out into homelessness.

Read more on the Chinese “sandwich class,” together with some interesting insight into how free enterprise homebuilders can foil the intentions, not only of democratic governments, but also centrally planned economies, in the MACAU NEWS: Government consults public on ‘sandwich class’ housing


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